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#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is a collection of loosely-connected short stories and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.  Roberta wrote an excellent Writer’s Review, so if you haven’t already, please check it out.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Difficult Read

 I found A Visit from the Goon Squad to be a difficult read for a couple of reasons.  First was just timing – our six-year-old granddaughter spent a few fun but time-consuming days with us, which included two overnight treks to Arkansas on each end of her visit.  Needless to say, I had zero time to do any reading those eight days.  I had started Goon Squad the week before, but found it slow going and only got through the first 2 chapters before that 8 day interlude.

Picking it back up after our granddaughter’s visit, I still found it slow going along with being really confused about the change of characters in each new chapter/short story.  Which is the second reason I found it difficult to read – I just didn’t care for the format. Several times I almost gave up on it, but I continued slogging through and finished it Friday.

Mixed Feelings

I did like the book better towards the end, especially the last two chapters / short stories, but I certainly didn’t love it like Roberta did.  At the end, I had many more questions than answers, and still wasn’t sure how all the characters were interconnected, nor could I even remember all the characters.  It’s one of those books that leaves you feeling that you need to turn right around and read it again.

Time Is a Goon

The Bestseller Code showed us that the title of a novel is often an important component of predicting a bestseller.  A Visit from the Goon Squad moves backwards and forwards across a 40-year time span, which I found added to the confusing nature of the writing format.  It takes a while to catch the references to time being a goon, and much of the focus of Egan’s novel centers upon how the characters cope with the changes that the passage of time brings to themselves and their world.

The very last chapter takes place in a futuristic, post-war-on-terror New York City in 2020, and even though we are almost to that date now, it’s a scary thought that we are on the path to becoming the digital world Egan writes about.

Usually when I’m done reviewing a book for our reading challenge, I delete the book from my Kindle.  I’m not going to do that with A Visit from the Goon Squad.  Instead, I’ll be saving it to read again, carefully choosing a time when I have a clear schedule.  Roberta’s idea of a flow chart for the characters is genius and one I plan to implement. I expect then that I will more fully appreciate Egan’s unconventional writing style and format.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 54. Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008) – Discussion begins August 6, 2018
Mystery/suspense

Sujata Massey: Author Post and The Pearl Diver Review

Sujata Massey Author Post

Because I have been reading a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of what I’ve read. I thought the blog would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I’ve read. To get more organized I’m going to try to create an author post for each author with lists of novels. I will update later by linking to newer reviews and marking books as read .

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Sujata Massey taught English in Japan for several years.  She used her experiences to create the delightful Rei Shimura mystery series.

Novels by Sujata Massey

Rei Shimura series:

  • The Salaryman’s Wife (1997) –review
  • Zen Attitude (1998)
  • The Flower Master (1999)
  • The Floating Girl (2000)
  • The Bride’s Kimono (2001)
  • The Samurai’s Daughter (2003)
  • The Pearl Diver (2004) – reviewed below
  • The Typhoon Lover (2005)
  • Girl in a Box (2006)
  • Shimura Trouble (2008)
  • The Kizuna Coast (December 2014)

Daughters of Bengal:
The Sleeping Dictionary

The Perveen Mistry Investigations
The Widows of Malabar Hill (2018) (historical mystery)

Review:

The Pearl Diver* by Sujata Massey


(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

Rei Shimura has been banned from Japan and is now living in Washington D.C. with her boyfriend Hugh. When her cousin is kidnapped, Rei leaps into action to find her. One thing leads to another and soon she’s also trying to find a Japanese woman who disappeared many years earlier. Are the two cases linked?

Although the novel is no longer set in Japan like the first novel, I still like how Massey works in details of Japanese culture, especially Japanese antiques, food (bento boxes), and pearl diving. The new setting is also concrete and detailed. Massey has a fine touch with setting.

The plot is rich, with many well-developed characters. The front matter includes a “Cast of Characters” list with snippets about a dozen of the more prominent characters. Character lists are always handy references, but aren’t necessary to enjoy this book. Unlike some other novels, the author does a good job of introducing new people so that it is easy to remember who they are.

Compared to her debut novel, which had a few bumps, this one is well done. I particularly liked the ending, which I won’t reveal.

I want to read more of the novels in this series.

#BookBeginnings Testimony by Anita Shreve

Today we’re starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeTestimony by Anita Shreve for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

Testimony* by Anita Shreve

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When the headmaster of Avery Academy receives a video of his students engaged in sexual acts with an underage girl, he is shocked. What will be the consequences for the students involved and for the school, which is already struggling? How did this happen and what should he do about it?

First Sentence:

It was a small cassette, not much bigger than the palm of his hand, and when Mike thought about the terrible license and risk exhibited on the tape, as well as its resultant destructive power, it was as though the two-by three plastic package had been radioactive.

Discussion:

The first chapter  should come with a warning. I took the book with me to read while waiting to get my car’s oil changed. Within minutes I realized that the intense description of sexual acts on the video weren’t something I felt comfortable reading in public. It made me squirm with embarrassment and I had to put it away. That is the first time I’ve ever had that happen. (I did my grocery list instead).

Have you ever had to quit reading a book because of similar circumstances?

What do you think? Would you read Testimony?

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of A Visit from the Goon Squad

Let’s take a look at our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Written as a collection of loosely-related short stories, the novel centers on two characters, a recording executive named Bennie and his employee, Sasha.

A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.

Characters

As to be expected from a prize-winning novel, the characters are diverse and well-developed.  Because of the sheer numbers of characters and because they pop up here and there in the stories, I found creating a flow chart with names and role summaries helped keep them straight.

Sasha is a bright young woman with an interest in  music who also is a kleptomaniac. She works for Bennie, a big wig in the music industry who is struggling with his divorce from Stephanie. Stephanie works for Dolly at La Doll PR firm and her brother is Jules Jones, who attacked a young movie star named Kitty Jackson and was sent to prison. Later Dolly recruits Kitty to help clean up a bad guy’s image. Dolly’s daughter Lulu becomes Bennie’s assistant after Sasha leaves to marry Drew Blake. Yes, the stories are that convoluted.

solar panels

Setting

Most of the stories take place in New York City, but both the settings and timeline hop around.  In addition, some of the settings are more pronounced than others.  For example, Lou and his family go on safari in South Africa, which is described in detail. Toward the end Sasha ends up living in a “desert” next to some large solar arrays and her daughter describes it lyrically, but with only the briefest of phrases in a chapter that consists of the images of slides from a slideshow.

Symbolism and Subtle Messages

All the while the stories are skipping from place to place, the author is leaving clues and subtle messages. The reader has to be alert and observant to keep up. For example, when Dolly takes her daughter Lulu on a dangerous trip, Lulu bites into a starfruit, an act which is “ripe” with symbolism. Sasha’s relationship with her stepfather and uncle also suggested some deeper meaning, although the issue was always skirted. Alex, who never really caught on that Sasha had stolen a woman’s wallet during their date, is trapped in an apartment with a view that is being eclipsed by construction.

Discussion

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a multi-layered tapestry. It shows how lives can be intertwined and how acquaintances — the six degrees of separation idea — can lead to deeper connections to others. It also reveals how seemingly random encounters can drastically change lives.

Personally, I found it fun and exciting to read. I can’t imagine how Jennifer Egan kept all the different threads of stories straight while she was writing, but she does an amazing job. I will definitely read this book again and look for more novels by this author.

Have you read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 54. Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008) – Discussion begins August 6, 2018
Mystery/suspense

#amreading The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello

It’s been a busy two weeks, but now I can settle in and review some of the books I read while on vacation, starting with The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello (see his note below). The novel won the 2017 Rosie’s Book Club award for contemporary fiction.

The Beauty of the Fall* by Rich Marcello

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Dan Underlight is overwhelmed with his problems. He helped found the tech company RadioRadio with his friend and boss Olivia, but after sixteen years together, she fires him. He is divorced and is still grieving the death of his young son, Zack. Will he be able to pull himself together enough to start another company?

 

Discussion

This novel reflects on some of the harsh realities of our times. In addition to being an insider’s view of technology start-ups, it has themes not only of workaholism, grief, domestic violence, and self-mutilation, but also of therapy and recovery. For example, the main character’s relational therapy session in chapter 2 (after he’s fired) sounds like more fun than most kids have at a play group.

I’ve talked before how authors should treat their introductions like they are inviting the reader into their home, that they should be welcoming. For this novel, the introduction has a few bumps, none of which are serious. For example, it might take a little time to get used to the  present tense verbs. Present tense is hard to pull off, but it is becoming increasingly popular, especially in literary fiction.

Turning the noun restroom into a verb in the first full paragraph might make a few grammar purists want to bail.

“Midway, my legs go wobbly, so I restroom to regroup.”

Don’t bail, however, because the introduction is rough for a reason. Dan is grieving and unstable and about to be fired. He’s having a tough time and the prose reflects that. Once past the first pages, the story smooths out and becomes engrossing.

I was especially taken by the insights into the corporate culture of tech companies. Sometimes the business-related sections were a bit dry, but it seemed to fit the character. He becomes a different person at work, more cerebral and less emotional. Outside of work, the two sides reverse in prominence.

Conclusion

The Beauty of the Fall is full of surprising twists and searing tragedies. Fortunately, the author blunts the harshness of some of the most traumatic events by foreshadowing and/or revealing them to the reader after they have occurred. Seeing how Dan deals with each new onslaught — in either positive or negative ways — will likely help readers better deal with similar situations.

What more can you ask for in a novel?

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A Note from Author Rich Marcello:

I spent the last year on the board of the Bridges Center for sexual and domestic violence, and one of the main characters in the novel, Willow (who is Dan’s love interest), is professionally based on Dawn Reams who runs the Bridges Center. She helped me a great deal as I was shaping the novel, and in particular, she focused on the DV passages in the book to ensure they were authentic and unflinching. That’s why I am donating 2018 profits from the book to Bridges.

See Rich Marcello’s:

Paperback: 378 pages
Publisher: Langdon Street Press (October 25, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1635054028
ISBN-13: 978-1635054026

 

Disclosures: This book was provided by the author for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

#BestsellerCode100: Number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Written like a collection of loosely-knit short stories, the novel centers on two characters, a recording executive named Bennie and his employee, Sasha. The stories move through different times and settings.

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.

 

Have you read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 54. Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008) – Discussion begins August 6, 2018
Mystery/suspense

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  I first read American Wife in 2012 and enjoyed the book then, so I was curious to discover if I still liked it.  I’m delighted to report that it was just as a good a read the second time through.  Sittenfeld has a real knack for writing dialogue and I was soon transported away to the world of Alice Blackwell.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Roberta’s Writer’s Review pretty much sums up my take on American Wife, so I thought instead I’d briefly outline Curtis Sittenfeld’s novels, which I have added to my reading list.

Female Protagonists

 All of Sittenfeld’s novels and collections of short stories have female protagonists.  She writes from experience (in the case of Prep) and also seems to enjoy fictionalizing and/or updating famous women or books (American Wife, Eligible).

  • Prep, (2005) – a coming of age story centered around a girl from the midwest, Lee Flora, who attends a preppy boarding school on the East Coast.
  • The Man of My Dreams, (2006) – follows Hannah from 8th grade thru her college years at Tufts and into her late twenties.
  • American Wife, (2008) – Alice Blackwell’s life from childhood in a small, Midwestern town, to her years in the White House as President Charlie Blackwell’s wife. Loosely inspired by the life of First Lady Laura Bush.
  • Sisterland, (2013) – the story of Kate, an identical twin, who has psychic powers.
  • Eligible, (2016) – the modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • You Think It, I’ll Say It, (2018) – a collection of short stories, including “The Nominee,” about Hillary Clinton as she is just about to accept the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Sittenfeld is currently working on her next novel, one inspired by her short story, “The Nominee.”  Sittenfeld described it in an interview with The Guardian:

I’m actually writing a novel now about Hillary Clinton, which I think I was partly influenced to do by writing “The Nominee.” The premise is: what if Hillary had met Bill at Yale Law School in the early 70s – which she did – they had fallen in love, become a couple but then she made the decision not to marry him. Yeah… what if?

Yeah, what if?  I’ll be watching for that book to come out! 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

#BookBeginnings A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challengeA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Written like a collection of loosely-knit short stories, the novel centers on a two characters, a recording executive named Bennie and his employee, Sasha. The stories move through different times and settings.

First Sentence:

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather.

Discussion:

Do you think she’s going to take the wallet or not?

While in a therapy session, Sasha reveals that not taking the wallet is a bigger challenge than stealing it.  Showing her unusual response to what is essentially an everyday occurrence gives the reader a deep insight into her character right at the start.

I can see why Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for this novel.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Or have you already read A Visit from the Goon Squad?

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of American Wife

Let’s take a look at American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld from a writer’s perspective.

This post may contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When quiet school librarian Alice Lindgren meets Charlie Blackwell, the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family, she doesn’t think they have much in common. That doesn’t prevent her, however, from falling in love and marrying him. Before she knows it, he’s governor of their state and then president. As first lady, she must decide how to cope with the challenge of loving her husband, but disagreeing with many of his beliefs and actions.

According to a preface in the book,

“American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady. Her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration are recognizable.

Although not identified by name, the author admits her main character is modeled after Former First Lady Laura Bush.

The Cover

I don’t usually comment on the cover, but this one is striking. It shows a woman wearing a beautiful full length wedding dress. Laura Bush didn’t wear anything like it when she got married, however, and it also isn’t what Sittenfeld writes that ever practical Alice wore. Pretty dress, but doesn’t truly reflect the story inside.

The Writing

Because my perspective as a writer, I tend to dissect books as I read them and it takes me out of the story. For example, for our last book I noticed right away that E. L. James described her main character looking in a mirror, which is not considered to be best writing practice. For American Wife, however, the writing disappeared into the background and I became fully engrossed. It is high praise when the reader doesn’t notice the writing and it becomes simply a vessel for the storytelling.

The few times I did notice the writing was when the word choice — slang in dialogue — seemed too modern for the earlier time. But that was only a word or two.

How did Curtis Sittenfeld achieve such seamless writing? First of all, by choosing the first person voice.  The first person draws the reader in by allowing full access to the main character’s thoughts and feelings. It worked well.

Sittenfeld also has a gift for storytelling. She frames the work with a scene in the White House where Alice reflects our her life with her husband, the president. From there, she crafts the story in chronological order as events in Alice’s life unfold. Although it has been labeled as a bildungsroman (coming of age story or about growing from youth to adult), it is the inherent conflict between a serious, quiet wife and a jovial, extroverted husband is central to moving the plot forward.

Some people were shocked that the author included explicit sex scenes, as well as a less-than-flattering bathroom scene. At first it did seem out of character when portraying someone who exhibits such decorum in public. But, the author’s goal was to make Alice seem realistic — like a living, breathing woman– and real women do have sex and have embarrassing moments in bathrooms.

Public domain image of Wisconsin

Setting

Although Sittenfeld uses many details from Laura Bush’s life in American Wife, she chose to deviate with the setting. Instead of living in Texas, the whole fictional clan is from Wisconsin. Why did she choose Wisconsin? The author grew up in Ohio and was living in St. Louis at about the time she wrote this, so we shouldn’t be surprised she picked a state in the Midwest.

Discussion

One of the problems with fictionalizing a real person is that readers will wonder where the nonfiction ends and the fiction begins. For example, it is true that Laura Bush was involved in a car crash that killed a classmate when she was seventeen. Some of the details were fictionalized, however, such as having Alice drive alone whereas Laura had a passenger in the car.   She also changed some prominent, verifiable details, like Charlie Blackwell’s father never becomes president like George Bush did. It was distracting at times to have to stop reading and do an internet search to verify or disprove story details, but I did learn quite a bit.

Sittenfeld isn’t the first author to fictionalize people who have occupied the White House. Another book on our challenge list, Primary Colors, is a thinly-veiled look at Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. In fact, just in the last few months there has been a thriller by a former president,The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, and a mystery series featuring Former President Barack Obama and Former Vice President Joe Biden, Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer.

Why this novel is special, however, is that it is an in depth look at the complexities of relationships, how marriages can survive and thrive between two people from vastly different backgrounds and opposite personalities under the pressure of being prominent public figures. Given that The Bestseller Code predicts novels about human relationships should do well, this fits the model perfectly.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

#BestsellerCode100: Number 56 American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When quiet school librarian Alice Lindgren meets Charlie Blackwell, the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family, she doesn’t think they have much in common. That doesn’t prevent her, however, from falling in love and marrying him. Before she knows it, he’s governor of their state and then president. As first lady, she must decide how to cope with the challenge of loving her husband, but disagreeing with many of his beliefs and actions.

According to a preface in the book,

“American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady. Her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration are recognizable.

Although not identified by name, the protagonist is apparently modeled after Former First Lady Laura Bush, who was recently in the news.

 

Have you read American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

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